The second pillar of Be(coming) a Happy Rainmaker is to build your own book of business.  

Business development is crucial to your legal career for two key reasons. First, the book of business gives you power over your career. Second, it allows you to practice law at a higher level by providing meaningful, impactful advice to clients. It may seem daunting, but it becomes much more manageable when you think of it as a long-term endeavor that compounds small actions. 

The problem is that law school doesn’t prepare you to build your book of business. When I first started practicing law, I had no idea it was so important. I thought that doing excellent legal work would be enough to guarantee my success. But, while you should do excellent legal work, the book of business makes or breaks your career. 

Why a book of business is so important. 

It comes down to economics, as in the study of how things work and why people do what they do. 

Economically, it starts with the firm and specific law firm economics: a law firm is a business. A law firm depends on attracting new clients. 

However, clients don’t typically turn to law firms for advice. Instead, they go to lawyers, and those lawyers work in firms. 

People trust the people they know. The firm may provide some level of brand support and assurance that a lawyer has access to resources, but clients overwhelmingly choose law firms by choosing the lawyers who work at those firms. 

The more business you bring in, the more important you are to the firm. The more important you are to the firm, the more power you have over when, where, and how things get done. Your book of business determines your compensation, and it’s what allows you to determine when and where you work.

As an associate, all you can offer a firm is time, so you work long hours set by someone else, it’s the book of business that allows you to escape that. 

There is another advantage to having your own clients: it’s how your career evolves from writing briefs to providing meaningful advice. 

Your clients see you as a trusted advisor and come to you with pressing issues that matter to them in their business or life.

Your work becomes one of providing advice, engaging with clients on issues, and helping them understand their options. 

You assign the grunt work to the associates and service partners; after all, they only have time to offer and aren’t bringing in the business.  

How to build your book of business

The problem with building a book of business is that it feels like you aren’t going anywhere at first. 

When I recently discussed this with Aaron Strauss, the managing partner at A.Y. Strauss, a phenomenal lawyer who is great at building business, he brought up a concept called the J curve. 

As an associate, you start by showing up and doing your work. Over time, if that’s all you do, you will likely end up frustrated and not progressing in your career. 

However, if you invest and put in additional effort when it feels impossible, you will reap the rewards in a few years.  

Just like Rome, you aren’t going to build a book of business in a day. It’s like investing: small amounts invested over time compound to generate much larger rewards later. In the stock market, the investment is money; in business development, the investment is your time. 

And what you are building is trust. 

Potential clients must see you as a trusted advisor, and that kind of trust takes time. 

Chris Santomassimo, Founding Partner of Outside General Counsel Solutions, stresses the importance of relationships for building this trust. He emphasizes that the best way to build a book of business is to put effort into developing meaningful trust-based relationships.

It’s not about having a social media presence… It’s about the strong relationships you have. 

Chris Santomassimo

What this adds up to is: do the work to position yourself as an expert, make it a habit, and your efforts will eventually compound into a valuable book of business and an asset for your career 

(Note: I’m using the context of an associate here, but no matter where you are in your career, making that investment today will yield results in the future.) 

So, what should you do?  

How can you start? Well, there are several things you can do right now that you can at least get started on with .1 of an hour: 

  • Do a quick LinkedIn post where you share your perspective on news articles from law journals, dispel legal misconceptions, opine on legal developments, or write about a recent case and its implications.  
  • Comment on a LinkedIn post to start a conversation. Maybe someone else commented on the news: what can you add? Comments are even more powerful than content because they help build a relationship with the person posting. Consider commenting on posts by people you’d consider ideal clients. 
  • Come up with the topic for an article; you could go through your emails or text messages and look for interesting patterns or observations that you could write about. Writing the article will take more time, but you can jot down your notes and have someone else write it.  
  • Look for a conference; attending a conference can be a great way to meet potential clients and get a feel for what is happening in the market you represent. 
  • Reach out to a current client or someone you met. Regular communication with clients and contacts helps build relationships while keeping you at the top of your mind. Maybe you invite them to lunch or breakfast. (Aaron Strauss recommends breakfast because it doesn’t interrupt the day.)
  • Sign up for a networking event because, like conferences, these can be a great way to meet people. 

Many lawyers at the beginning of this journey worry that they meet the wrong people. But you never know who the people you meet know or how their careers will change and shift. 

Maybe you need to meet corporate leaders who are not going to show up at networking events. But they likely did at one point, so the people you meet now could become future leaders. 

Also, the people you meet know people, so the people you meet now might know a corporate leader who, at some point over dinner, asks: “Do you know a good lawyer who…” and your name comes up. 

First and foremost, Do something. 

Even seemingly small activities can contribute to making a significant impact.

While at first, it may be slow as you ride the J curve down, ultimately, it will become a rewarding journey that not only secures your place in the competitive legal arena but also allows you to align your professional world with your personal goals – the true essence of a balanced and fulfilling career as a lawyer.